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Building Lifelong Readers: A McKay's Visit

During the last month of the 2016-17 school year, each student at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy received a special gift—the gift of books.

A private donor has provided each student $25 to spend on books at McKay’s Used Books, a haven for literary treasures, every quarter. Students were able to use the funds to purchase books, ranging from literary classics to calculus textbooks, that would allow the students the opportunity to read beyond their respective summer reading assignments.

High school English teacher Jen Semanco says watching her students uncover something they would enjoy was the best part of the trip. “We turned the girls loose in McKay’s and we were there for at least two hours,” she says. “We steered them toward their interests and helped them pick out summer reading books, various young adult series, literature and even some test prep books.”

Their selections had to be school appropriate, but the donor was adamant about giving the girls a voice and choice in what they’re reading. Semanco agrees that this is important.

“That matters. When you have ownership of what you’re reading, you’re more likely to read and enjoy it,” she says. “The bus ride home was silent as girls started their books.

Surprising Discoveries

Student Kiara M. [’18] was surprised at how much fun she had in McKay’s. She spent time in the biology section, looking for medical books, and picked out a few murder mysteries. She’s currently reading Steven King’s Different Seasons.

“I liked having the freedom to choose what I want to read,” she says. “This experience might help me branch off and read a different variety of books, and just be a more avid reader in general.”

LaCara B. [’18] had a similar experience, uncovering books that she couldn’t find at school or in a public library. She focused on finding books by African American authors and those about the human experience.

“I like books about the different things that African-Americans go through,” she says. “You can learn about other peoples’ experiences and how they changed their lives for the better. I’m inspired when I read stuff like that.”

A Daily Practice

Students spend the first 30 minutes of every school day reading quietly, and the implications are huge. Regular reading can improve fluency and understanding, and it can help boost a student’s critical thinking skills.

Semanco is grateful that students will get to revisit McKay’s every quarter. She feels lucky to accompany them.

“As teachers we work to engage students in reading so it becomes enjoyable,” she says. “Regularly getting to pick out new books and reading daily will become a habit and be part of their lives. I think this will make morning reading even more successful.”

Thank you to our donor who made this and future trips possible!